After a campaign of new ideas came a pair of victories by traditional means. City Councilor John Connolly and state Representative Martin Walsh rose above their many talented rivals by dint of organization. They proved that even in a changing city, time-honored methods of organizing — around neighborhoods, labor unions, and endorsements — still deliver votes. They also showed that voters still respond to candidates with proven track records in office and familiar names.
But the ideas that emerged from the campaign — a broad consensus in favor of school reform, greater diversity in public-safety agencies, and a faster pace of neighborhood development — will outlive the means of organizing. The preliminary election was a contest among 12 candidates, in which drawing even 20 percent of the splintered electorate would be good enough to win. The general-election campaign will be different. Neighborhood loyalties and endorsements, particularly from defeated rivals, will play a role in determining who is the next mayor, but so too will the scope and inclusiveness of the candidates’ visions. Connolly and Walsh should address themselves less to their former rivals than to the tens of thousands of Bostonians who voted for them — each of whom sought to change the city in a slightly different way.
The race between Connolly and Walsh should be a conversation about the city’s future: How best to close the achievement gap among students; support small businesses in the city’s rising immigrant neighborhoods and beyond; keep talented innovators in the city; and prepare Boston to compete for high-tech jobs and influence on the global stage.
While Connolly and Walsh followed conventional paths into politics, each has also been a reformer. Walsh broke with his union allies on Beacon Hill to support wide-ranging educational reforms and lifting the charter school cap. He has brought new awareness of addiction and mental-health issues to city and state government. Connolly has been the City Council’s leader in pushing the Boston school department to empower principals to pursue innovative approaches to education. He hopes to transform the city’s art scene by developing live-work spaces for artists, and its transportation system by clearing the way for commuting by bicycle.
The preliminary election turned out to be a high-minded discussion because so much of what turns off voters — negative campaigning, mean-spirited TV ads, appeals to special interests — was refreshingly absent. Now, it falls to Connolly, Walsh, and their supporters to make sure that the general-election campaign, too, is a positive reflection on Boston. They should carry the discussion about the city’s future to new heights.